Case Alert - [2017] EWHC 3046 (TCC)

Judge holds party was entitled to rely on a court letter regarding filing of a costs budget

CPR r3.13 provides that "unless the court orders otherwise", costs budgets must be filed and exchanged no later than 21 days before the first CMC (the rule previously stipulated 7 days). In this case, the TCC court office had sent a letter requiring the parties to file and exchange budgets not less than 7 days before the CMC. The claimants' solicitor had served their costs budget in accordance with CPR r3.13, but the defendant's solicitor had served later, relying on the court office's letter. The claimant argued that the budget had been provided late and the defendant was forced to apply for relief from sanctions,

Coulson J held that the application had not been necessary because the letter had amounted to the court "ordering otherwise": "A busy litigation solicitor is entitled simply to rely on the date specified in writing by the court office, rather than embarking on an investigation into whether or not the letter contained an error". Furthermore, a judge cannot be expected to check, let alone sign off, every letter that is sent out by the court office.

Even if he had been wrong on that point, Coulson J said he would have granted relief. The breach here was not serious, no hearing having been lost and the costs budget process had in fact occurred. Furthermore, the defendant had had the "best possible reason" for delay, as it could reasonably rely on the letter.

Having warned the claimant that it would seek its costs of the application, the defendant was entitled to such costs.

Coulson J went on to caution, more generally, that, post-Mitchell and post-Denton, "Courts will be far less forgiving of non-compliance than they ever used to be. But that tougher approach must not be abused in the way that occurred here. Parties need to consider carefully whether the alleged breach of the rules is, on analysis, any such thing and, even if it is, whether it is proportionate and appropriate to require or oppose an application for relief from sanctions in all the circumstances of the case".